‘We all are making sacrifices right now’ How Americans plan to spend coronavirus stimulus checks

News that the government is getting closer to sending stimulus checks to some low- and middle-income families has been met with a collective sigh of relief from many in the U.S. who have lost their jobs or had their hours significantly reduced over the past few weeks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the biggest stimulus package in U.S. history if passed, individuals earning under $75,000 may receive direct payments of $1,200, while couples earning under $150,000 could receive $2,400. Households may also receive an additional $500 per child. 

And while some financial experts suggest people should consider investing the money or stashing it in a savings accounts, many Americans will need to use it to cover essential bills, like rent and utilities, and groceries for their families.

Amy Nesbitt Murray, a massage therapist in Morgantown, West Virginia, plans to use her check to shore up her business so she can reopen down the road; any leftover money will go toward her and her husband’s personal bills.

With her business temporarily closed, Nesbitt Murray is keeping her hands busy by sewing reusable masks for health workers at the local hospital amid the nation-wide shortage.

“I’m lucky that my husband is still working, but without me that is half of our income gone,” says Nesbitt Murray. “Of course, we have decreased our budget the best we can and have been relying on our credit cards.”

I’m lucky that my husband is still working, but without me that is half of our income gone.

Amy Nesbitt Murray

Nina Dillingham, also a massage therapist, says her check will go to her April rent, though she says it will “hardly make a dent” given how high housing costs are in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives. 

Dillingham owns NMD Spa in Palo Alto, and she says the checks will be critical for her three employees, who are technically independent contractors and thus don’t qualify for unemployment. 

“I understand we all are making sacrifices right now,” Dillingham tells CNBC Make It. “And we all must do our part.”

It’s particularly difficult for people in her line of work, she says, who are in the business of “human touch and connection.” She hopes to weather the next few months, but says her savings will be “wiped out” soon. Not because she is irresponsible with her money, but rather because the work she and her employees are engaged in isn’t high-paying to begin with. They simply want to help people feel better.

“We are the group that works every day, pay our taxes, live paycheck to paycheck and live just under our means,” she says. “We look forward to being able to hopefully get back in the studio that we have poured our hearts and souls into.”

While Dillingham has some savings to fall back on, others are already struggling to make ends meet. 

“We have three kids and literally negative in our bank account after trying to get what we need for the lock down,” says a writer and editor based in San Diego County, who asked not to be named to protect her family’s privacy. “Anything will help, honestly.”

Currently, she says the bank balance on the account she shares with her husband is negative $1,000. Any stimulus check her family of five receives will go toward basic living necessities and the overdraft fees they’ve already accrued.

While her husband typically leads Sunday services as a worship pastor at their church, there have been no services to lead lately. He quit his job earlier this month instead of being fired to protect his reputation, she says, without realizing that would mean he wouldn’t receive severance or qualify for unemployment.

She is trying to remain calm and help others in any ways she can. If there is any positive side to what’s happening, she says, it’s that her husband’s job loss “didn’t feel as big of a deal” as it would have under normal circumstances, noting that there are health-care workers sacrificing their own health to fight the virus and businesses closing all over the country.

“The world is so much bigger than just our family of five,” she says. “When you feel connected to humanity and the human experience, you recognize you aren’t the only one hurting or suffering.”

“I know we will be okay,” she adds.

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